Arab Strap – I’m totally fine with it 👍don’t give a fuck anymore 👍

An album that pulsates with desire, regret and love...

Scottish duo Arab Strap were always iconoclasts. Their debut single, ‘The First Big Weekend’, came out at the height of Britpop and, while on the surface it looked to chime with much of the scene’s arms-around-your-mates beeriness, it was a tale of a cycle of self-destruction that foreshadowed the movement’s own implosion.

The band’s Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton were in their early 20s at the time of ‘The First Big Weekend’. But what becomes of caners and bingers when they hit middle-age? It can’t be all pill-fuelled benders when you’ve got mortgage repayments and an Ocado delivery to wait in for? As Moffat put it himself on his 2011 track, ‘Cages’, “These days it’s all shopping lists and school runs, direct debits and tax credits, nasal hair, fungal nail infections, dishwasher tablets, Citalopram, and CBeebies.” And even that Rolodex of drudgery was over a decade ago.

But although they’re moving into a new phase of life, Arab Strap remain experts at chronicling the world around them. Moffat is arguably one of these isles’ best lyrical observers, turning unremarkable minutiae into poetry with a few well-chosen words. Take opener Allatonceness, which skewers the misguided priorities of online culture wars with the couplet, “They’ve got your attention, antagonised fanboys / While rapists and Nazis sell merch.”

On ‘I’m totally fine with it 👍don’t give a fuck anymore 👍’ , the band’s eighth album and their second on Mogwai’s Rock Action label, it’s oddly comforting to see Arab Strap can be just as disappointed and acerbic as ever. Allatonceness is followed by Bliss, an unflinching look at toxic masculinity and violence, and Sociometer Blues, a coruscating evisceration of both social media and our addiction to it.

But beyond those three, Arab Strap’s worldview seems to slightly soften. They’ve always had multiple strings to their bow, but I’m totally fine with it… leans on the romantic and lovelorn repeatedly. Hide Your Fires talks of “The high heels and trainers, that slinky silk gown / Donated to charities all across town” while You’re Not There aches for a lover that’s no longer present, culminating in the devastating lines, “Don’t ask me why I still send these words to you / Actually, just ask away – please do.” There are also turns of phrase to marvel at. ‘Again, You’re Not There’ delivers, with its description of unread texts as “blue bubbles that help me believe” while referring to a friend who never knowingly left a drink behind as a “dreg queen”, on a track of the same name, is vintage Moffat.

We’ve got this far without any mention of the music, and there are two reasons for that. Firstly, Moffat’s lyrics are so remarkable, so worthy of further analysis, that it’s difficult not to just pepper the paragraphs with his zingers and prose. But secondly, it’s because there’s not anywhere near as much to say about what lays behind Moffat’s brogue. Arab Strap do a good job of manufacturing menace, of building a whirlpool of sound that can envelop the most bitter sentiments. In these instances, music and lyrics are working as one and it’s phenomenal. But when the mood gets lighter, or turns to emotions other than anger, it’s as if the music doesn’t know what to do. It settles for often simply being a quieter version of the album’s more stringent moments, its minor chords and reverb a little misplaced amid the soul-baring.

It’s perhaps a harsh criticism, but it makes you hark back to the two albums Moffat made in the 2010s with composer Bill Wells (‘Everything’s Getting Older’ and ‘The Most Important Place in the World’). Wells’ dynamic range matched Moffat’s lyrical scope, and the lyrics sounded more fully realised than ever. But realistically, we have no right to expect a band to make a record this strong and vital almost three decades into their career. It’s full of piss and vinegar, but it’s full of desire, regret and love, too. Whatever the dismissive album title may tell you, Arab Strap very much still give a fuck.

8/10

Words: Joe Rivers

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